High Country Dually Lifted – The new cooling fan of the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD diesel looks like a windmill blade assembly is no coincidence. Very big. And by big, we mean 28 inches in diameter. If appearances tell the truth, it could cool a nuclear reactor. Or the core of the Earth. Or even the sun itself. But that’s just one component in the various chassis and powertrain changes that allow Chevy’s diesel-powered Silverado 2500 and 3500 pickups to reset the max-towing bar among HD trucks.
A new 10-speed Allison transmission is paired with the diesel engine, as well as a modified prop shaft and larger 12-inch rear axle on the 3500s. At 35,500 pounds, the maximum trailering weight of the 2020 Silverado HD is 52 percent greater than the 2019 Silverado HD. But that’s only 400 pounds off the bar set a few months ago by the Ram 3500, and it’s only 500 pounds more than the 2019 Ford Super Duty, which also gets a makeover for 2020.
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Those are academic numbers, of course, especially considering that the peak numbers are always achieved by single-cab, rear-wheel, two-wheeled trucks. You know, the one no one buys. What’s more, despite the increased tow ratings, the Silverado HD’s 6.6-liter diesel option maintains the same output as last year-445 horsepower and 910 lb-ft of torque.
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The new 6.6-liter gasoline V-8 bumped the base engine’s output to 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft of torque over last year’s Silverado HD’s 6.0-liter gas engine, which produced 360 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. The gas engine is coupled exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission, and each powertrain offers only a single axle ratio (3.73 gas, 3.42 diesel). Gas-engine-equipped Silverados max out at 17, 400-pound towing capacity.
We towed two trailers around the mountains of central Oregon in the new Silverados: a 12,000-pound open-deck utility trailer using the gas-engine Silverado and a 14,000-pound enclosed trailer with diesel. Both trucks are single-rear-wheel, body-cab, all-wheel-drive models.
The gas-drinking truck, custom trim option is priced at $47,520, must feel heavy on the road that rises and falls between 4000 and 6000 feet. Still, patience is needed when moving anything this heavy, and the load is in our powertrain’s capabilities. The six-speed transmission delivers perfectly rev-matched downshifts when slowing down and on grades to help control speed. Narrow two-lane roads, however, where there is a premium on precision steering and feedback, showing the limits of the chassis. And the limits aren’t something we like to explore while piloting nine tons of steel and rubber.
Two factors are at play: Lower-trim trucks (Work Truck, Custom, and LT) use hydraulic-assisted steering while upper trims (LTZ and High Country) get electric-assisted steering-Enhanced Digital Variable Assist Steering in the Chevy vernacular. The electric assist setting allows engineers to adjust the steering wheel specifically for use in Tow/Haul mode, allowing extra damping and effort, which dramatically increases confidence during heavy towing. Also, lighter trailers installed on gas-powered trucks are not equipped with heavy-distribution hitch, which shifts more weight to the front axle to normalize the steering. Combined, these differences are significant in detracting from the towing experience.
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The diesel truck, however, is a sweetheart moving mountains. You get what you pay for with the $9750 diesel option and the better High Country. Even towing a few thousand pounds more than a gas truck, it’s clear that if you tow a lot and the load is heavy, there’s no substitute for diesel. With almost twice the torque of the gas engine and four more gears to choose from, Duramax was safe in its ability to pick up speed and haul uphill. Even with the equivalent of four Corvette Stingrays in tow, the 2500 was able to maintain 60 mph up the steepest slope available. What is more important is the ability to maintain speed downhill using the exhaust brake, which operates silently and actively using the switch on the dash. Simply reach the speed you want to hold, activate the exhaust brake, and steer.
All Silverado HD trucks were updated with new bodywork this year and share only their sheetmetal roof with the 1500. They’re big, too. The cab body model gets 5.2 inches more wheelbase, 10.4 inches longer, and 1.4 inches wider than last year’s truck. The result is three inches more rear legroom. The HD special bed is also longer and has more volume (nine more cubes in the standard bed and seven more cubes in the long bed) than the 2019 model.
Chevrolet is so serious about diesel engine longevity that it added an after-start feature to its Duramax-equipped pickups for 2020. This feature alerts the driver when the transmission is put in Park if the engine needs additional cooling time and will restart itself. To activate the cooling up to 15 minutes, the driver must choose to kill the engine.
The new Allison transmission is also available with optional power takeoff for driving dump bodies or salt spreaders, and air dams and skid plates are now easily removable for less intrusive snowplow installation. And you never wanted a less intrusive snowplow, right?
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Chevy’s convincing, but unnamed, new camera system is available in the HD lineup. The system offers 15 different views from eight cameras, including (optionally) one on the back of the trailer and one inside. Chevy claims 12 percent of pickup drivers have been involved in a fight with a spouse, friend, or family member while towing. (This is an unsubstantiated claim but a claim nonetheless.) Fortunately, the system, which has almost no blind spots, will effectively eliminate your need for a friend or partner, thereby eliminating the two biggest struggles of our lives. In addition, the system unquestionably makes towing easy and safe by bringing to the previously unseen view, which will be a useful feature for the rest of life as well.
What we are trying to say here is that the new Chevy HD pickup has moved the genre to another front with more capability and safety, while reducing or eliminating some of the heavier hassles. That some of their trucks could benefit from better steering probably won’t bother the big crew who buy these rigs. They will be more than satisfied with the ability to infiltrate the house in their daily driver. And they will be impressed with that big fan, no doubt.
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